by Scott MacDonald | AHL On The Beat
There are many milestones and firsts along the way for a young player in the National Hockey League. Being drafted, putting on that jersey for the first time, being invited to your first training camp, skating in your first NHL game, scoring your first goal.
The latter of those milestones may be the hardest one to achieve, yet it’s the most memorable. It means the player has accomplished the near-impossible. After all, just a fraction of those drafted or signed will even skate in an NHL game, let alone score a goal in one. At the end of the day, whether a player makes it to the NHL or not is wholly dependent on development.
For Colorado Eagles forwards Andrew Agozzino and A.J. Greer, it’s been a long journey from signing with the Colorado Avalanche, to developing in the Avs’ AHL system, to now landing in Loveland. This season, however, feels a little different for the two first-year Eagles.
The pair of Avalanche prospects are having themselves quite a memorable year so far. Both are just a few goals and a handful of points away from setting new career highs. But more notably, the two were recently recalled by the Avalanche and achieved one of the biggest milestones of one’s hockey career: scoring their first NHL goal.
“It means a lot, an awful lot,” said Agozzino of netting his first. “After being out of the NHL for two and a half years, to go back up and score my first, it was a long road for me to do that and it’s just a special night overall for me.”
The 28-year-old Agozzino scored his first career NHL goal against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 18. Just two days later, it was Greer who accomplished the same feat, scoring the first of his young NHL career against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 20.
“It was an amazing feeling, it’s something you dream about,” added Greer. “It was kind of a relief for me because I’ve played a little over 30 games [with the Avalanche], so to be able to get that first one was amazing and something I won’t ever forget.”
In total, Agozzino and Greer became the fifth and sixth Eagles players, respectively, to net their first NHL goal with the Avs this season, joining Sheldon Dries, Vladislav Kamenev, Ryan Graves and Dominic Toninato. It’s the most players the Avalanche have had score their first goal in one season since 2010-11, when Colorado had seven do it.
Call it coincidence, but the first-year partnership with the Avalanche and Eagles seems to be making a big impact on the young players in Loveland. They’re showing growth unlike any other year of their development. For Agozzino, his first year with the Eagles has done wonders for his mental game.
“It’s a great mindset, a little more maturity and a lot of self-confidence,” said Agozzino of what’s been different with the Eagles this season. “I really believe in my abilities out there and I have the confidence to make plays and take some chances and it’s really paid off… That, and I’ve had some great chemistry with my linemates, (Logan) O’Connor and (Martin) Kaut. We’ve been together for a majority of the season.”
Greer agrees, there just seems to be a different mindset around the Eagles.
“I think this year I worked on my mental game a lot this summer,” Greer said of his improvement with the Eagles. “It kind of translated in my game, just being more calm and collected… I’m having a great time here.”
Again, there’s just something a little different about this new partnership with the Eagles and Avalanche that’s led to the players’ success. Maybe it’s the proximity between the NHL resources down in Denver and the prospective NHL’ers up in Loveland. Or maybe it’s the fresh Rocky Mountain air and the support of one of the most passionate fan bases in the entire AHL.
“[Even on] a Tuesday night we’re sold out. It really speaks volumes,” said Agozzino of playing in Loveland. “It definitely means a lot for the players to come in knowing the rink is rocking on any night. It’s been great so far for me.”
Whether it’s the fans or the newfound relationship between the two clubs in Colorado — whatever it is — it’s working.
The Eagles are soaring to new heights in Colorado. And that’s great for not only the players there, but for the Avalanche, who are just a call away from tapping into the talent that’s budding at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. If this first year of affiliation and development is any indication, it will be a fruitful relationship for the Avalanche, Eagles and their players for many years to come.